Morneau showed power right away

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 22, 2006 - 8:38 PM

The American League MVP put on an impressive home run-hitting display for the Twins staff shortly after signing out of high school in 1999.

It was sometime in June 1999 that Justin Morneau, a third-round draft choice heading for the Gulf Coast League from his home in Vancouver, British Columbia, stopped off at the Metrodome, put on a uniform and hit maybe 15 balls into the upper deck, according to Twins General Manager Terry Ryan, who witnessed the great effort.

"That was unusual for a high school kid," said Ryan about Morneau, who was named the American League MVP on Tuesday.

"At that time you could see that he had that type of back-fence power, and consequently we were waiting for that to show up up here. And this year it did, and he finally surpassed that 30-homer mark," Ryan said. No Twin had hit 30 homers since Kent Hrbek, Gary Gaetti and Tom Brunansky did it in 1987.

Watching an 18-year-old kid hit those home runs using a wood bat was something Ryan won't forget for some time.

"And everybody [the major league staff] is watching him, and it's batting practice and everybody knows that, but with raw strength and power, he showed the ability to hit the ball a long way," Ryan said.

"You see a guy like that, and you'd like to speed up the process and make sure that it's not a long ordeal getting him back up here. But throughout his minor league career, he put up some very good offensive numbers for us."

Morneau's rookie year was tough; he played only 17 games after breaking a bone in his right hand.

He was drafted as a catcher and was moved to right field and then to first base, a good move as it turned out because of the development of Joe Mauer behind the plate.

"The switch came about because he kept breaking down," Ryan said. "His elbow became a chronic problem. He was a good catcher. He could really shift and throw, and he was a good enough athlete to stay back there. In fact, if he didn't get hurt, I would suspect that he would've emerged up here and surfaced as a catcher. Of course, now we have Joe Mauer, so we have the best of both worlds."

Morneau and Mauer won their first Silver Slugger awards earlier this month, given to the top hitter at each position. There isn't a team with two better young players.

Rosenthal can help

Mike Rosenthal played 20-some snaps of good football against the Dolphins when starter Marcus Johnson was injured Sunday, and Vikings coach Brad Childress had some complimentry things to say about the veteran lineman.

Rosenthal, a former Notre Dame standout, has been one of the leaders in the locker room even though he hasn't seen much action, and now he could start against Arizona on Sunday.

"We got a good five," Rosenthal said. "Any way I can contribute, helping those guys, you know, I prepare the same way. I'm one play away. I'm excited just to get in this year."

Rosenthal, who was a starter for three seasons, hasn't complained about his status even though Johnson hasn't played that well.

"I've been a backup before, in New York [Giants]," Rosenthal said. "Any role I can have on this team, I'm going to enjoy it, going to have fun with it. Prepare the same way."

Rosenthal was asked if the backup role is difficult

"You've always got to be ready," he said. "You've got to be prepared to go in the left side, the right side, in the flow of the game. I'm ready for it."

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